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The Llewellyn Journal

Near-Death Experiences of Children

This article was written by P.M.H. Atwater, Lh.D.
posted under Afterlife

Children of any age can have a near-death experience. That includes newborns and infants. What they describe, once they are able to verbalize, can be quite shocking to parents who are unfamiliar with the startling reality of near-death states.

With a research base of 277 child experiencers, I can say that the vast majority (76 percent) of children’s scenarios are rather simple, featuring only three or fewer elements-things like loving nothingness, friendly darkness, a special voice, an out-of-body experience, or a visitation of some kind. The closer the child is to puberty, the more apt he or she is to have a longer, more involved episode. Still, kids’ cases run the gamut from hellish to heavenly, regardless of age. The youngest to have a terrifying experience was only nine days old. This baby girl was traumatized by ghoul-like beings who threatened her when she “died” during surgery. The event haunted her throughout her growing years until the age of twenty-eight, when she had a second near-death experience that explained the first one.

We all thrill to “out-of-the-mouth-of-babes” stories that inspire and uplift us, yet in our joy we fail to view what happened to the child from the child’s eyes-nor are we alert for aftereffects.

Children’s Experiences

Don’t let children’s usually brief scenarios fool you-the key is intensity. In over two decades of research, I have found that it is the intensity of the experience, not necessarily the content, that has the greatest impact. The simplest episodes, if intense enough, engender the full range of psychological and physiological aftereffects-no matter the experiencer’s age.

With that in mind, let’s take a moment to compare child experiencers with adult experiencers. Remember, the intensity, and the aftereffects are the same, yet the different way kids deal with the phenomenon can be quite surprising.

Fifty-seven percent of child experiencers went on to enjoy long-lasting and happy marriages. Adult experiencers, on the other hand, had tremendous difficulty forming or maintaining stable relationships afterward; 78 percent of their marriages ended in divorce.

Both groups in my study reported unusual increases or decreases in light sensitivity: about 75 percent with kids; close to the adult range of 80 to 90 percent. 73 percent of the adults went on to experience electrical sensitivity, but not many children did-only 52 percent. This may reflect adults’ access to technological equipment, rather than a true deviation. Older experiencers are four times more likely to become vegetarians than the younger crowd-even near-death kids snub their veggies.

Parent-sibling relationships tend to be strained for child experiencers. Additionally, kids are more likely than adults to suffer socially and to report having regrets about what happened to them. An astounding number of children would go back to the “Other Side of Death’s Curtain” after their experience, even if that meant suicide. Child experiencers, whether still young or grown, seldom see a counselor, and receive less help if they do. This is not true with adult experiencers-contrary to how loudly they may protest. Because the disparity between children and adults in this area is so enormous, it begs further comment.

One-third of the child experiencers in my study admitted to having serious problems with alcohol within five to ten years after their experience. Almost to a person, they claimed that undeveloped social and communication skills were the culprits, along with an inability to understand what motivated the people around them. Their world view, as it turned out, had altered significantly from their peer group and family members, making it difficult for them to “fit back in.”

There’s another aspect to the issue of alienation that, for the child, may be even more profound. Completely aside from any abuse or peer pressure from family or friends, and whether or not parents are supportive, the major factors in a child’s experience appears to be who or what greeted the youngster on The Other Side of death. What parent, no matter how wonderful or loving, can compare with the Holy Spirit? What person, friend or foe, can interest a child who has visited the bright realms and become buddies with an angel? Connecting with such transcendent love, and then abruptly losing that connection, can be very confusing, even devastating. Many kids expressed guilt-ridden laments like: “I’m really bad. The bright ones left and I can’t find them anymore. It’s all my fault they’re gone.”

We tend to forget how personally children take everything, and the extent to which they blame themselves if things go awry. Nor do we notice how large things loom for them-their near-death experience can define their entire world. Because many are unable to make “before and after” comparisons, the fact that “here” is not the same as “there” is often too foreign a concept for them to grasp.


Children reason differently. Unaccustomed to considering cause and effect, they tend to act on impulse; hence the high degree of alcoholism, and an attempted suicide rate of 21 percent. It seems perfectly logical to a child that the way to rejoin the light beings met in death is simply to die and go back.

This is not recognized by them as self-destructive. Their logic says: “I was in this beautiful place while I wasn’t breathing. It all went away when my breath came back. I need to stop my breath so I can return.”

Parent/child bonding is initially quite strong. These kids want to be with their families. That bonding brings them back again and again. Common assertions are: “I came back to help my daddy,” or “I came back so Mommy won’t cry.” The parent/ child bond doesn’t begin to stretch thin, or break, until after the child revives. That climate of welcome or threat they are greeted with directly impinges on everything that comes next.

To understand children’s cases, we must keep in mind that kids are tuned to different harmonics than adults. Concepts of life and death leave them with puzzled faces. “I don’t end or begin anywhere,” a youngster once told me. “I just reach out and catch the next wave that goes by and hop a ride. That’s how I got here.”

This child, like other young experiencers, speaks in the language of “other worlds,” one that is less verbal and more akin to synesthesia-multiple sensing. This enables them to perceive “reality” as a series of layered realms, unhampered by physical boundaries. They easily giggle with angels, play with ghosts, and pre-experience the future. Parents generally find such behavior cause for panic. Yet what seems worrisome may have a simple explanation: near-death states expand and enhance faculties normal to us, allowing access to more of the electromagnetic spectrum-the typical range of human perception is a mere one percent.

Growth in Intelligence

As a child’s mind begins to shift from what happened to them, their intelligence quotient rises. Here are a few sample percentages from my book, Children of the New Millennium (Three Rivers Press, 1999), which details my research with child experiencers:

• Mind works differently-highly creative and inventive: 84 percent.

• Significant enhancement of intellect: 68 percent.

• Mind tested at genius level (overall/ from birth to age 15): 48 percent.

• Mind tested at genius level (subgroup/those under age 6): 81 percent.

• Drawn to and highly proficient in math, science, or history: 93 percent.

After a near-death experience, a child’s learning ability reverses. Instead of continuing with the typical developmental curve-from concrete details to abstract concepts-a child returns immersed in broad conceptual reasoning styles, and has to learn how to go from abstract back to concrete. One first-grader returned to school after drowning and being resuscitated. While his peers continued with their reading of “See Spot Run,” he wanted to know about Greek mythology and why Robinson Crusoe was written. His teacher was stunned, but he just blinked his eyes and headed for the library.

The most oft-repeated phrase from those I interviewed was: “I felt like an adult in a child’s body.”

Even those who did not test out with extraordinarily high IQs (which averaged around 150 to 160; several were 184 and above) evidenced uniquely creative and intuitive minds, numerous faculty enhancements, an unrelenting curiosity, and exceptional knowledge soon after reviving. Some were gifted with foreign languages. Adult experiencers also returned more intelligent than before, and many became intuitive problem solvers. All of this occurred

without genetic markers of any kind to account for what happened.

Overall, child experiencers are natural computer whizzes. Many become physicists and inventors once grown, or masters of the arts and humanities; some are professional psychics. Older teenage and adult experiencers are most often drawn to healing, counseling, and ministerial roles afterward. Not so the kids-at least not the majority. But mention math or science, and they’re all aglow. History intrigues them, along with anything to do with times past, as if it might apply to who they were before in past lives.

Most (85 percent) of the kids with the greatest acceleration in mathematical ability also acquired an intense and passionate love of music. In the brain, math and music functions are located next to each other. Children’s near-death states seem to activate both of these regions, as if they were a single unit.

The child who returns from a near-death episode is a remodeled, rewired, and refined version of the original. The changes children undergo are more dramatic than those of adults-not, I suspect, because their aftereffects are different, but because they are still in the process of basic brain development when the episode occurs. They are hit with a life-changing experience at a time when they are most vulnerable to the power of such a shift.

How many children are affected? Thanks to a poll taken in 1997 by U.S. News & World Report, the estimate for near-death experiencers in the United States has jumped to 15 million people. That translates to about one-third of those who brush death, nearly die, or who are pronounced clinically dead but later revive. However, this estimate only addresses adults.

Melvin Morse, M.D., in his pioneering book, Closer to the Light (Villard Books, 1990), puts the figure at around 70 percent for children. Thus, under the same circumstances, children are twice as likely as adults to experience a near-death episode.

Modern resuscitation techniques and new medical technologies are bringing back from the edge of death more and more people- especially kids-who return ideally suited for this high-tech world. It’s as if the very citizens we need to thrive in our new global village are being created right under our noses.

Millennial Generation

Even more amazing is that the Millennial Generation is being born this way. Today’s crop of kids compares almost trait-for-trait with what happens to children after a near-death experience.

In Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069 (William Morrow, 1991), historians William Strauss and Neil Howe identify the Millennial Generation as the group of children born between 1982 and about 2003. These young people comprise the fourteenth generation since the United States became a nation. They are the most wanted, nurtured, and educated group of individuals we’ve ever produced, and the most protected by law. Unusually smart and assertive, they are as creative and intuitive as they are technologically adept. They score higher on IQ tests than any other generation on record-a twenty-four- to twenty-six-point hike; a significant percentage of them test between 150 to 160 or higher. But they receive their greatest scores in non-verbal intelligence. They are creative problem solvers and intuitive innovators. This jump is so high that changes in the gene pool cannot possibly account for it. Neither can education, as test scores in the area of rote schooling rose only slightly-a puzzle for educators.

Something of note is happening to the human family-these anomalies are global-and it is happening now!

Increasing numbers of children are born “advanced.” Increasing numbers of children are becoming “advanced.” Increasing numbers of adults, through near-death states or because of an intensely impactual transformation of consciousness, are also becoming “advanced.”

Brain Shifts

Because this is true, I no longer consider near-death states a separate phenomenon, but part of the larger category of consciousness transformations. I call such episodes “brain shifts” because they appear to cause a structural, chemical, and functional change in the experiencer’s brain, not to mention alterations in his or her nervous and digestive systems, attitudes, and sense of self.

Brain shifts can result from any manner of otherworldly occurrences. Some are turbulent: religious conversions, near-death episodes, kundalini breakthroughs, shamanistic rituals, sudden spiritual transformations, certain types of head trauma, and being struck by lightning. Some brain shifts are tranquil: the slow, steady application of spiritual disciplines, mindfulness techniques, meditation, vision quests, or the results of a prayerful state of mind in which the individual simply desires to become a better person.

Major characteristics displayed by people who have undergone or who are going through a brain shift include physiological changes in thought-processing (a switch from sequential or selective thinking to clustered thinking and an acceptance of ambiguity), insatiable curiosity, heightened intelligence, more creativity and invention, unusual sensitivity to light and sound, substantially more or less energy (even energy surges, oftimes more sexual), reversal of the body clock, lower blood pressure, accelerated metabolic and substance absorption rates (decreased tolerance of pharmaceuticals and chemically-treated products), electrical sensitivity, synesthesia (multiple sensing), increased allergies or sensitivities, a new preference for vegetables and grains (and less meat, for adults), and even changes towards a more youthful appearance-before and after photographs can differ significantly.

Psychological changes include losing the fear of death, greater spirituality (and less “religiosity”), greater abilities in abstract and philosophical thinking, bouts of depression, disregard for time, greater generosity and charity, expansive concepts of love (while at the same time they are challenged to initiate and maintain satisfying relationships), exaggerated inner child issues, lower competitive attitudes, greater conviction of a life purpose, rejection of previous limitations and norms, increased psychic ability and future memory episodes (pre-living the future), charisma, childlike sense of joy and wonder if adult, greater maturity if a child, detachment and dissociation, and a hunger for knowledge and learning.

The Greater Plan

In reconsidering near-death states, I now regard adult episodes as a growth event, an opportunity for the experiencer to make course corrections in his or her life; a second chance. I see childhood episodes as evolutionary events-part of a quantum leap in the development and growth of humankind as a species; a second birth. The larger category-transformations of consciousness-I have come to recognize as the engine that drives evolution, that which advances us.

Beyond all the stories and revelations experiencers share (and some are quite spectacular), is “a larger presence and a greater plan.” My three near-death experiences, occurring in the first three months of 1977, opened the door to this vision. The thousands of people I have interviewed and studied since then reflect the same awakening: We are co-creators with our Creator, advancing with Creation itself.

Most repeated from near-death experiencers are these four words: “Always there is life.” If they are right, and I believe they are, then how can there be an afterlife? A before-life? A death?

Kids describe life as “the stream we flow along,” while negotiating the currents and eddies of its spread. It is the “homey home” of our visions and the ever-present reality of each moment. Life is all there is. Children are really quite wise, and we would be wise to listen to them.

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